‘Startling Increase’ In Curlew’s Invasive Perch Population

A “startling increase” in invasive yellow perch numbers has Washington fishery biologists worried about the future of one of the state’s destination trout lakes.

Nearly 840 perch turned up in a net survey at Curlew Lake earlier this year, up from just three in 2012, the first year the nonnative fish turned up. Their size, from 5 to 11 inches, indicates that several year-classes are now in the lake.

WDFW BIOLOGISTS DISPLAY YELLOW PERCH NETTED AT CURLEW LAKE. THEIR SIZES, RANGING FROM 5 TO 11 INCHES, SUGGESTS SEVERAL YEARS OF SUCCESSFUL BREEDING BY THE UNWANTED SPECIES. (WDFW)

WDFW BIOLOGISTS DISPLAY YELLOW PERCH NETTED AT CURLEW LAKE. THEIR SIZES, RANGING FROM 5 TO 11 INCHES, SUGGESTS SEVERAL YEARS OF SUCCESSFUL BREEDING BY THE UNWANTED SPECIES. (WDFW)

And in late September, a local fishing tournament, the “Perch Purge,” saw more than 200 landed.

“The total number of perch in the lake could be in the thousands,” says state fisheries bio Bill Baker.

The fish, which likely were illegally transported into Curlew by bucket biologists, threaten the stellar trout fishery because they compete with rainbows for food.

While the lake does have some very toothy and very large predators — a 38-pound state record tiger muskie was caught here this summer — they prefer to chew on soft-rayed fish, like trout and northern pikeminnow, than spinyrayed ones like perch and bass.

Local supporters have been hard at work building the trout fishery up too. Earlier this year, the Curlew Lake Association was recognized as WDFW’s Organization of the Year, thanks to its annual releases of over half a million net-pen-raised rainbows since 2004.

The lake’s state park and resorts are longtime summer vacation spots for angling families around the Northwest.

Management options are limited, but Oregon has been dealing with a similar infestation at a one-time destination trout fishery. ODFW nets Phillips Reservoir right at ice-out to prevent the yellowbellies from breeding, and last year the agency released 25,000 5-inch tiger muskies to eat as many of the estimated 1.5 million perch there as possible.It’s unclear what Curlew’s future holds, but locals are organizing a winter ice-fishing event to try and remove more.

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